Stopping the Nuclear Madness in Southern Asia

08 Jun, 1998    ·   111

Maj. Gen. Dipankar Banerjee (Retd.) points out the danger of the nuclear situation in the subcontinent-A possible Indo-Pak conflict and a threat of nuclear proliferation.

Nuclear tests in South Asia in May have shaken the world. Two old adversaries, India and Pakistan , are today nuclear weapon powers. From a state of ambiguity they are now overtly nuclear preparing to deploy these weapons. Suddenly it is a less safe world for everyone.



There are two immediate dangers ahead. One, is the possibility of an impending conflict between India and Pakistan . They have already fought three major wars in the last fifty years. A proxy war continues in the state of Jammu & Kashmir since 1989. A new conflict involving nuclear weapons cannot be ruled out. Two, is the threat of nuclear proliferation. A world that had somehow survived with five nuclear weapon powers may be suddenly confronted with two, four or more additional nuclear weapon states.



De-escalating the situation in South Asia is the highest priority. Realistically, the nuclear genie in South Asia cannot be put back. But, it can be controlled and halted. Nuclear weapons may have come out of the closet, but they must not be married to delivery means. Both sides should expeditiously announce a moratorium on missile testing and nuclear test explosions. Missiles in stock must not be deployed. Fail safe arrangements need to be made by both countries to control their nuclear arsenals and delivery means. Greater transparency should make these steps appear credible to the other side.



Other measures should include a firm declaration of "no first use". Both sides should sign the CTBT at the earliest and support the FMCT discussions currently stymied in the Conference on Disarmament at Geneva .



Next, is the question of Kashmir . It may or may not be the core issue, but its relevance, as a source of conflict in South Asia cannot be denied. Unfortunately it has acquired a higher salience now. It should be clearly understood that nuclear weapons have no role in that situation. This should be stated emphatically by all political and military leaders from both sides of the border. An agreement on bilateral dialogue, including Kashmir , was painstakingly worked out last year by the Foreign Secretaries. This must now be resumed expeditiously.



These steps have to be taken by India and Pakistan . Imposing sanctions are of limited use, even though they may seem righteous. It always hurts the poorest in the land and their numbers in South Asia are measured in the hundreds of millions. Nothing can justify imposing additional misery on them. Sanctions instead strengthen the political leadership by allowing them to appeal to people's patriotism.



There is an international dimension to the problem as well. The global nuclear order is much too skewed. While the world is asked to commit to not acquiring nuclear weapons, the five nuclear weapon powers have not kept to their side of the bargain of moving towards elimination. Not adequate attention has been paid to the security of countries that are left in the lurch at the end of the Cold War. The emerging world order does not address their legitimate security concerns. It is not a plea to reopen the non-proliferation agenda, but an appeal to strengthen it through more effective measures towards nuclear abolition. The world needs to move fast, lest others with similar concerns feel tempted to follow the same path



The role of China is important. It is a part of the problem as well as the solution. Its rising economic power combined with its nuclear capability and an authoritarian political system cannot but cause concern to many countries in Asia . Its weapons and technology transfer policies too need to be more transparent and in line with its new role as a major player in a slowly emerging multi-polar world. India 's relations with China have been moving forward in the last decade. Given firm commitments on both sides this will continue to develop satisfactorily.